“So how big was it?”

The voice on the other end of the iPhone sounded shocked. Danny shifted in the padded chair in the crowded United terminal. He had spent the last ten minutes telling his college buddy Kevin the whole story about the snake. He didn’t have to make anything up, but Danny still loved heightening the drama with those inner observations of his. His friend didn’t believe him at first, and now was finally realizing just how crazy this situation sounded.

“It was wrapped around like a massive chocolate swirly cone hiding under my desk. It filled the entire space. I bet I couldn’t get both of my hands around its body if I tried.”

More laughter on the other end. “That’s insane. What did the cops say?”

“I had to call a guy who removes snakes. Like instead of The Horse Whisperer he’s The Snake Charmer. I mean—how does a guy like that stay employed? In Denver? You know?”

“That’s his only job?” Kevin asked.

It sounded like his friend was walking outside somewhere. Kevin was in the financial world and was always making deals and on the go and traveling. Danny didn’t know exactly what Kevin did in exact terms except that his friend made money. Lots of money. And like Danny, Kevin was single. Well, both had girlfriends and both seemed to have a fifty-fifty chance of making it.

“No, I’m pretty sure he gets rid of other animals too. I had to leave my key with a neighbor—one of the steroid guys in the building who wants to bench press me. He wasn’t happy.”

“You’re not that hard to bench press,” Kevin told him.

“If only you could see how much my mind weighs.”

“Why? ‘Cause it’s that dense?”

“If you only knew, brother,” Danny said, thinking how unclever Kevin could be. “I gotta go. I’ll send a pic if the snake patrol takes one like I asked them to.”

“You gonna post something about it on your blog?”

“That’s a dumb question.”

Moments later, while flipping through the different streams of information and communication happening on his iPhone, Danny read the awful news coming out New Mexico.

It’s crazy when a school shooting wasn’t the lead story in the news, but it turned out nature was becoming more deadly than psychotic students gunning down a few kids in the hallway of their school. Four to be precise. Four high school students, all claimed to be unknown to the shooter, were killed while another half dozen injured. A teacher was shot taking down the gunman, some sophomore whose name was being withheld.

Danny finished reading the report and then adjusted his glasses. He shook his head, staring back out to the strangers waiting to board the United Flight heading to Charlotte. The lead story was the tornado that had obliterated a good amount of Columbia, South Carolina. The death toll now stood at 146, a number that kept going up since the initial report. The pictures they were showing revealed nothing but rubble with people standing over them staring in shock. Tears, desperation, emptiness. Pictures that were as commonplace in the news these days as weather reports.

How about them, Danny? Got some funny quips about those people?

Oh how he hated hearing Brooke’s voice in his head. He needed to switch the channel from needy girlfriend station to something else.

The school shooting ran through his head again. As if the world didn’t have enough problems on its plate, something like this had to happen.

The classic song “Mad World” rang through his head. Not the original but the cover version by Michael Andrews. The lyrics were his personal motto in life. “I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad . . .” So many things—almost everything, in fact—could be viewed this way. He found people and situations and events funny and sad. He liked to find the funny in sad things and vice versa. Many, many times he liked to reveal the sad out of the funny. The world could have its amusement and Danny would be there to hold up a melancholy mirror. Then in the depths of sorrow he would strive to make some people laugh. Or maybe just chuckle.

Of course, an online chuckle could never be heard, but it could still be known and appreciated and tracked.

There’s no way to make a school shooting comical or ironic or anything but a complete horror-show.

The boarding began for his flight but he waited without a rush in his seat. As he checked email this strange thing slid up beside him. Shaking him suddenly.

Rattling his insides.

Danny suddenly wondered if this was a smart thing to do. Heading down to some supposedly haunted town just to highlight the stupidity of a sizable portion of America.

Remember your why, Danny boy.

The sarcastic inner voice lightened his mood. He loved quoting Oprah-isms or Ted Talk quotes to himself.

A brand is a voice and a product is a souvenir.

Yes, absolutely, of course.

The world didn’t want to know when it was going to end. It simply wanted to laugh before the end came. Well, half the world wanted to laugh. The other half wanted to pray. His audience were those howling in amusement right before all Hell broke loose. Or maybe right afterwards.

Danny Chord had written something like that somewhere on his blog. People loved it. The delirious, drunken fools. He seriously used to think that he would need to find another job when everything started happening a year ago, but that was when things started getting . . . interesting. It turned out that people desperately wanted an intelligent and belligerent look on the bleakness of life. So there he was, this short and scrawny soul poet. The savior of the cynical landscape. With a blog called JIVE TALKIN’. It was his job to try and help people through the misery of the everyday news. So he provided filler for fools.

They seriously could just not get enough.

So heading to Solitary and providing some amusing fodder and getting minds off tornadoes and school shootings while showing the paranoia that could turn an entire town into a morning headline. . . That was a good thing. A great thing, in fact.

Danny stood up and headed toward the plane.

As long as I don’t find anything rattling with fangs and black diamond scales sticking up ready to strike I’ll be fine.

The thought made him shiver. The famous Indiana Jones quote came to mind.

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

Surely it’d be too cold to find any of them in Solitary.